Hoodoo is a Sovereign ATR and Must be Respected as Such or Else

Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD
4 min readSep 13, 2020

I’m writing this as both the granddaughter of a conjure man and as a cultural scholar. I’m testifying as a Pan-African Lukumí and Palo devotee as well as a scholar of African Diaspora traditions. I’m asserting my ideas as an academic student of Hoodoo and with great admiration for Zora Neale Hurston. I am writing this as the descendant of Africans living on this land who never lost sight of who they were. I offer this simple introduction to me as context for the argument that I wish to present herein.

I obtained my Master’s degree in African New World Studies (basically a degree in Diaspora Theory) from Florida International University. During my time in that program — which included living in Miami — I learned about the embodied practices of so-called African Traditional Religions (ATRs). I also learned a great deal about the ways in which some members of the Diaspora see US-born Africans as less cultural, and less African than other Diasporic populations.

A few weeks ago, in an exchange on Twitter I was reminded of this when I was told by a Lukumí /Palo devotee of Caribbean descent that Hoodoo did not have “formal” initiations because it was an admixture of various elements born in the US from older traditions.

It is not lost on me that the Twitter exchange I participated within was primarily centered around Zora Neale Hurston, whom I love deeply, as an ATR devotee. It was also not lost on me that here was a Lukumí initiate arguing that Hoodoo was an informal mixture of practice while her own spiritual tradition has historically had to defend itself from similar claims due to its Diasporic nature. The initiate argued that Hoodoo was less sovereign than the systems that had given rise to it while failing to consider the similarities in the adaptive nature of both Lukumí and Hoodoo.

In Hurston’s (1931) “Hoodoo in America,” the scholar spends a significant amount of time describing not only the practices and circumstances of Hoodoo, but her own formal initiations into the system with detail — something she elected not to do in her works on other ATRs. We are left to wonder why Hurston decided to describe her initiations into Hoodoo so specifically. Perhaps it was because she understood the importance of documenting the formality of Hoodoo as a sovereign system with its own rites, ceremonies, and protocols.

Despite Hurston’s descriptions about Hoodoo practices and ceremonies, she argued in writing that Black spiritual traditions maintained on U.S. soil were less African than Vodun, for example. She writes, “…island Negroes retained far more of their West African Background than continental Blacks” and “… Negroes fleeing Hayti and Santo Domingo brought to New Orleans and Louisiana, African rituals long since lost to their continental brothers” (p. 318). Nonetheless, her 1931 “Hoodoo in America” is replete with examples of works, rites, and ceremonies of Hoodoo that outline its sovereignty and implicitly present — in terms of her own initiations — Hoodoo’s unique protocols for proper practice. Many have taken Hurston’s explicit stance to be her real face. I suggest that wholistic consideration of her writings reveal her role as the consummate trickster.

Notwithstanding its West African roots, Lukumí has Regla de Ocha — a protocol system marking it as a formalized religion existing as evidence of its African origin and its Diasporic adaptation. Too often scholars (and ATR devotees) have failed to see how Diaspora — as a construct — necessitates adaptation and reinterpretation as a matter of survival and cultural tenacity that was required not only of Lukumí but also of Hoodoo. Any consideration of African retentions of the trickster like Exu, Kafou, Ellegua, Legba, or Ananse should rightfully also include a consideration of Brer Rabbit and John the Conqueror. If not, that consideration is incomplete.

There is a part of me that believes the failure to consider Hoodoo as a legitimate cultural practice with as much authenticity, autonomy, and sovereignty as any other ATR, is born from a deficit perspective that is often used when considering the cultural traditions of Black people in the US. Despite this perspective, Hoodoo has survived in the most hostile of places with little contemporary scholarly attention and veiled by the protective covering of silence. It — like US-born African culture — is tenacious, generative, and powerful. Whether one elects to give attention willingly, or not, it simply is what it is.

Efforts to make separate that which is by birth born together is folly. To suggest that any specific population or practice created by African genius and cultural tradition is deficient or defective because of its geographic location is naïve.

When Africans, no matter their language, practice, or location, bicker amongst themselves about their own authenticity and relationship to the whole, we are all made weaker. In today’s world, that’s just bad medicine.


Hurston, Z. N. (1931). Hoodoo in America. The Journal of American Folklore, 44(174), 317–417.

NOTE: This writing will be expanded as a chapter in my forthcoming book, Roots and Writing: A Consideration of Spirituality in Black Literate Lives.



Tiffany D. Pogue, PhD

Tiffany D. Pogueis an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education whose research interests include Black Educational History, Philosophy, & Literacy Tradition.